Memories for Sale: Why Retailers and Brands are Profiting Off Millennial Nostalgia

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It’s official : The 90s have made a comeback. The question though, is why? Are consumers too nostalgic for their own good, or are retailers and brands taking advantage of a perfect storm?

According to almost any millennial you meet, the best time to be alive was the 90s. Were most millennials even alive in this decade? It’s questionable. But what isn’t questionable is the deep-seated love that almost every millennial has for the decade of grunge, chokers, flannels, cartoons, and the family sitcom. Still even more permanent, although surprising, is the longevity of the 90s trends in today’s fashion. From the mid-2000s on, the 90s have continued to see a resurgence in popularity that no one could have predicted. It’s unprecedented, but extremely profitable to the brands and retailers that have taken advantage.

Fashion is cyclical. You’ve heard it before. Trends usually re-emerge every twenty years or so, stick around for a year or two, and slowly fade back into oblivion. What’s captivating about the current trends we’re seeing borrowed from the 90s is that they appear to have staying power, and they’re not going anywhere in the next few years. Many people are asking, “Why?” Is it that retailers are exploiting millennials, or that the younger generation falls too easily into the nostalgia trap?

Fashionista recently published a story that dives into the factors that may be leading to our 90s love affair. Speaking with college professors and big brands, an exploration of 90s obsession took place. According to a 1998 Nielsen report, the average American child watched around 20 hours of television a week. In that same report, it was said that most parents spent only 38 collective minutes talking to their children every week. One reason that millennials may be so enamored with their birth decade is that they’ve been raised as watchers, not doers. This watching translates into why trends that draw from their childhood experiences have such a powerful effect on this generation.

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Another factor that could influence the 90s revival we’re experiencing is the fact that a larger percentage of the millennial generation is college educated. As Fashionista puts it, " ‘A much larger proportion of 20-somethings today are college-educated, which means that they have had more time to explore their identity, their interests, their dreams than previous generations who started full-time work a lot earlier," says Ursula Diamond, clinical assistant professor at NYU's Child Study Center.’ ” Judging from the confluence of memes and social media content that has to do with 90s shows and sitcoms, it seems that much of a millennial’s identity is wrapped up in their childhood.

Consumers aren’t the only ones obsessed with the 90s—designers seem to be in love with it as well. In nearly every market, from action sports to high fashion, we’re seeing a resurgence of the past.

The problem with constantly looking back is that nostalgia can be dangerous, particularly at a societal level. Many people tend to romanticize the past, forgetting social, cultural and financial issues that plagued generations before them, choosing only to focus on the bomber jackets and chokers of a past era. Our society has always been a nostalgic one—looking to the past to decide the future. And with our host of environmental issues, job market declines, and rocky political landscape, it makes sense that millennials now, more than ever, are reaching for a comfortable past.

You can read Fashionista’s full article here.

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